While most people get their chills from television or movies, video games offers some of the most engrossing horror experiences. Video games are still a relatively young medium, but developers have created exceptional titles over the years. In games such as Fatal Frame and Silent Hill, players are able to immerse themselves in the horror, offering a richer experience than passively watching something.
Like movies, terrifying video games also come in a variety of styles. While others rely on stealth to evade monsters and spirits, some titles put players in the thick of the action. In this shoot ’em gameplay, players can enjoy the fast-paced thrill of combat with all of the eerie scenery of survival horror titles.
Here are 25 of the scariest, most hair-rising video games of all time, running the gamut from slow-paced stealth games to high-intensity shooters.
1. Resident Evil
When it was unveiled in 1996, Resident Evil practically invented the genre of survival horror. The zombie-fueled title laid the groundwork for countless horror games that followed it. While the original title may show its age, Resident Evil still excels due to its engrossing atmosphere, horrifying monster design, and unique control layout.
2. Left 4 Dead
Some zombie games rely on suspense and patience, while others are relentless bloodbaths. Left 4 Dead falls into the latter category, preferring a lightning speed pace for its shoot ’em up combat system. Even though you never have time to enjoy the scenery, the addictive game creates a truly horrifying experience.
At many points, Prey feels more like a movie than a video game. The story features a wayward man forced to battle vicious aliens after being abducted along with his family. The richly cinematic cut scenes serve the dual purpose of furthering the story while amping up the overall terror unfolding at every corner.
4. Silent Hill 2
Over 15 years have passed since the release of Silent Hill 2, but critics still heap praise upon the survival horror title. Many view it as the apex of the long series, because of its subtle manipulation of psychology to elicit fear. For example, many of the monsters were purposely made more human-like to mirror the main character’s subconscious.
5. Doom 3
The original Doom was light on the horror, functioning more as an unfettered shoot ’em up. Doom 3 rewrote the formula, instead focusing on a slow-paced survival horror cast in a demonic space setting. The creators focused on building atmosphere rather than ramping up violence, which charged the suspense in every room.
6. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is easily the greatest zombie horror game of the last five years. Critics and fans continue to point it out as an example of cinematic gaming, where the story brought rich subtext and a sense of humanity. In addition to the plot, The Last of Us succeeded by creating a vibrant post-apocalyptic wasteland that felt all too real.
7. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Some horror games offer a few cheap thrills, others can make you jump, but only a select few truly terrify. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a title tailor-made to challenge your deepest fears as the protagonist explores the endless haunts of a disturbing castle. The game continues to find life as fans create their own expansions to the game.
8. Resident Evil 4
While the original Resident Evil rewrote the rules for survival horror, Resident Evil 4 refreshed the entire genre. Seen as the high point of the series, the title revolutionized third-person shooters while using stellar graphics to heighten the tension.
9. Condemned: Criminal Origins
Condemned: Criminal Origins casts off the unrealistic game where ammo is a seemingly infinite resource. Instead, the main character rarely finds weapons, and has to conserve every bullet when he does find a gun. The limited combat allows the game to feel more real and forces players to think carefully about their survival.
10. Dead Space
Dead Space can be thought of as the video game equivalent to Alien. Both titles revolutionized sci-fi horror and boasted compelling scripts. Dead Space also succeeded by featuring fluid gameplay mechanics where the protagonist fends off alien hordes in zero gravity.
11. Dead Rising
Due to the glut of zombie video games, developers have to constantly shake up the genre’s formula. Dead Rising is one of the most distinctive undead survival games because it blends extreme violence and gore with a healthy dose of humor. The entire story is set inside a large shopping mall where you use everyday items to stave off the zombie onslaught.
12. Half-Life 2
Half-Life 2 is constantly touted as an incredible video game for numerous reasons. The game’s ability to terrify is one of its greatest assets. On missions like “Ravenholm,” players have to solve puzzles while dodging horrific monsters in a truly unpredictable environment.
13. Fatal Frame
When Silent Hill started taking the console world by storm, other developers took notice. Inspired by the game’s success, developers at Tecmo created Fatal Frame, which turned out to be their own survival horror classic. Critics praised the game for its unique combat system, where players had to destroy evil spirits using a special camera.
14. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem received little notice upon its release in 2002, but the title has gone down in horror history. Fans praised the game for its psychological tricks, where reality goes awry as the player’s sanity meter goes down. Unfortunately, a proper sequel to the game has been consistently delayed and remains in development.
There are few video games intros more memorable than the first few minutes of Bioshock. As your player descends into a sunken utopia, you quickly begin to uncover the tragedies that have been left behind. Bioshock succeeds at terrifying players by creating a compelling world to explore and get lost in.
Sure, the creepy little girl may be a tired horror trope, but it’s stuck around for a reason. Demonic children are simply terrifying. The developers behind F.E.A.R. manipulate the trope to maximum effect as players constantly use brute force to try and outsmart one evil child.
17. Manhunt 2
Few games have caused as much controversy as Manhunt 2. When the title was announced, anti-video game activists and even Hillary Clinton sought to have it banned for its sadistic focus on torture. The game initially received an Adults Only rating for its brutality. Rockstar Games was then forced to tone down the brutality by blurring out its bloody torture scenes. Despite the censorship, Manhunt 2 still offers players an intensely grisly experience.
18. System Shock 2
System Shock 2 failed to garner adequate sales upon its release. Despite this setback, the survival horror classic enamored critics with its unique role-playing elements that innovated first-person shooters. Fans have reason to rejoice as a true sequel is finally in the works.
19. Clock Tower: The First Fear
Before video games were advanced enough to incorporate complex combat systems, developers had to innovate with simpler means. Clock Tower: The First Fear only supported a point and click system where players had to escape a murderer throughout a creepy mansion. Despite these limited settings, the influential game managed to set a new standard in survival horror.
20. Fatal Frame III: The Tormented
After the success of the original Fatal Frame, developers managed to improve the title in nearly every way. Critics often point to Fatal Frame III: The Tormented as the greatest stride in the series because of its grisly graphics and improved gameplay. The unique camera-based battle system shined as players encountered horrifying spirits behind the lens.
21. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
H.P. Lovecraft forever revolutionized horror, so it’s only fitting that game developers incorporated his famed Cthulhu monster. In the first-person shooter Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Developer Headfirst Productions incorporated stealth and rapid gunplay to immerse gamers in a Lovecraftian universe. Though its sales were minuscule, many fans tout the game as a horror classic.
22. Haunting Ground
After the end of the Clock Tower, gamers were clamoring for a game that matched its terror. Capcom fulfilled that need with Haunting Ground. The 2005 survival horror game incorporates many gameplay elements of Clock Tower while mixing in its own darkly captivating universe.
23. Alien: Isolation
Most video games made to tie-in with movies end up being embarrassing flops. However, Alien: Isolation manages to buck that trend. Players get to explore the engrossing future-world that takes place 15 years after the end of the first Alien movie. The developers captured the atmospheric dread of Ridley Scott’s vision through sharp graphics and a stealth-based gameplay system.
24. Forbidden Siren 2
The original Forbidden Siren received a lukewarm response from critics upon its release. Thankfully, the sequel massively improved its shortcomings. Forbidden Siren 2 dropped players into the mystery surrounding an abandoned community on an island off the coast of Japan. Critics praised the game for its distinctive, non-linear storytelling.
25. Silent Hills
Sadly, we’ll never get to live in a world where Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima’s much-anticipated Silent Hills was actually released. However, some players can still enjoy its terrifying demo. In 90 minutes or less, the teaser created a terrifying universe that fans are still pining for.
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